Folks of my generation who come from England may recall the term “Cottage Queens”.
One might think the term applies to former members of royalty in countries like Bulgaria or Greece which have overthrown the monarchy, who having been evicted from their palaces are forced to live in some hovel on one of their once grand estates.
Thinking thus shows an ignorance of a class of refined nature lovers, who refer to themselves not as Ladies but as Queens.
In times gone by when some of the present day “freedoms” we enjoy such as drinking all hours, gambling in casinos and more were yet to be won – won by the beer barons and their ilk, a good many Queens chose nature instead and were often to be found, considering the often inclement weather, frequenting their “cottages” in the parks. Hence the term Cottage Queen.
I am writing this in Chiang Mai on one of those very unusual days here, when the weather is grey, drizzly and cold, when one who comes from London or Melbourne might think of home.
Here we also have cottages in parks. Chiang Mai’s cottages are needed to provide shelter from the wet of the rainy season, but do not provide the same facilities for comfort as those in England, who some would call “comfort stations”.
Only one park in Chiang Mai has salas which provide the special kind of comfort, the comfort of companionship, but not to my knowledge of “comfort women” who frequent the commercial entertainment areas.
Chiang Mai has a number of secrets regarding parks, one being that there are a great many. Of these the majority are the parks surrounding the commodious accommodations of the officers of the civil and military service. These all have high fences and are locked at night and the same is true for the “public” parks, except for one, for the moment.
There was a second “freedom park”, a narrow linear park beside the Mae Kha Canal with an elegant sturdy, little sala at near its entrance. The locals gave it the name Thaksin Way in honour of the Prime Minister who commissioned construction of the path, sala and tree planting there. The municipal officials, however did not share the popular respect for the ex-PM and so recently demolished the sala and bulldozed two thirds of the trees along Thaksin Way.
While Thaksin Way may not be regarded as a proper park, and there was not in evidence signs that it was a place of common comfort, it was not uncommon to find a person of very small means taking shelter in the sala overnight. Now these folk have become doubly homeless.
Returning to the remaining freedom park, this has two elegant spacious salas, also used by homeless men and most certainly, when not so occupied fit for a Queen. Outside in the shrubbery and undergrowth around the sala there is much evidence of recreational activity by, one must presume, cottage queens.
The evidence takes the form of small square colourful plastic wrappers which have been torn open to allow use of their contents. A community working bee to plant trees and cleanup rubbish in the park had the pleasure of picking up these wrappers, and thankfully not once encountering the contents which must have been disposed of in a tasteful manner.
The pleasure comes from knowing that the work of the men’s health collective Mplus+ has been so effective in teaching about safe recreational practice.
But alas, this must all come to an end with the cottage queens being locked out together with the homeless. After four years of complete neglect, and use by the municipality as a rubbish dump, the mayor of Chiang Mai has sent in the bulldozers for a park “makeover”, a word of American origin I suspect, meaning mass destruction followed by a new pretty facade, as in Iraq for example.
The park has been a sea of mud for weeks, making normal recreation impossible, and now is having a tall steel fence and gates erected. So Kanchana Pisek park beside the Suan Prung Hospital will have lost its evening warmth. Unless that is on November 3rd when Chiang Mai votes the voters choose, not the youthful faced candidate from a family of hoteliers behind this exclusion, but another who has some compassion for the cottage queens and those unable to afford the pleasure and comfort of paid accommodation.